Do you advise the people you coach to take a break from training or lighten their workout intensity during the late fall and winter months? Or, should endurance athletes plow through the year at full intensity? --Tim
Tim asks a really good question. I'll start my answer with the answer to many questions - it depends. But I clarify that here. If we assume a "typical" race season of the summer and early fall, then by the late fall you are done with races. We would then call the late fall and winter months the off season. Racing is done so what do you do now?
Regardless of the time of year your "off season" comes, you should take a few weeks to relax and recover. Your body has been through a lot during race season so it needs some rest to restore the damage. While you are recovering from your last race (this length of time will depend on the kind of racing you did) take a few weeks and just enjoy exercise. Do things that weren't a part of your training routine - hikes, skiing, bike rides just for fun with friends and family, or any other activity that is enjoyable to you. You want to stay active to retain fitness, but your body does need a break from a structured training season, and so does your mind. You should also use this time to reflect on your previous season and set goals for your next race season.
If you are like most endurance athletes, after a two or three weeks of little structure, you will feel refreshed and ready to get back in to an exercise routine. The length of this period will vary depending on your race season and goals. Use this time to work on technique or spend some extra time in the gym strethening your weak areas. This way when the training season starts up again for you, you will be ready!
Regarding intensity, I believe you should retain some intensity, but keep it short. You want your body to remember how to go fast, but you don't want to train so hard that when race season training comes around you are fatigued and unmotivated. Here's where a coach can come in handy to structure your race and off-season so that you get the recovery you need and work on the skills that need improving.